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ILL-gotten gain

Since it's National Library Week, we're asking visiting patrons to write down on a huge sheet of butcher paper what they love about our library.

One woman just came in and said, in response, "Oh, there are so many things!"

And that's true.

At the top of my list as a patron, and not as a staff member, would have to be inter-library loan or ILL.

I think it's wonderful that I have free access to books and periodicals that are on the shelves and racks at this library, and it's doubly wonderful that I have access to the collections of hundreds of other libraries.

For example, I am doing some genealogical research on my family in Hopkins County, Texas, during Reconstruction. We don't have anything about Hopkins County. But, I've been able to use ILL to find out all kinds of interesting things.

And that's not because I did anything special or complicated. I just filled out a form at the circulation desk, and a volunteer by the name of Gerin Hood spent a whole lot of time finding the books and pamphlets for me.

She'll do the same thing for you.

OK: This is true

I'm dubious about a lot that passes for real research these days.

I see too many reports about studies done badly to keep from being a confirmed skeptic.

But, this one is true. I know because it  describes me.

The Washington Post published a report on studies done by Maryanne Wolfe, a Tufts University cognitife neuroscientist. She was startled to watch her reading habits change the more she went online. One night she sat down to read Herman Hesse's "The Glass Bead Game."

"I'm not kidding: I couldln't do it," she said. "It was torure to get through the first page. I couldn't force myself to slow down so that I wasn't skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself."

I am getting that way.

I'm very impatient these days when I read The New York Times on Sundays. It's almost painful to look at a page full of type and try to dive into it. Instead of diving in, I'm like a rock skittering across the surface.

This problem will be widespread, if not already, and may doom books and long-form journalism before anything else does.

I won't be making this ...

A regular volunteer, Chris Middleton, brought me a 1909 Presidential Cookbook.

It's in pretty bad shape, as you can imagine. But, you can still read the recipes.

Right away, I turned to page 111, where I found several recipes for tripe. Yipe! Tripe! It appears that to make tripe edible you have to cut it into small pieces and boil it for -- literally -- hours.

Not me.

The cooks who put this book together have no qualms about tripe, and no qualms about using plenty of lard and butter. Everything's better with lard and/or butter.

You can tell they had their priorities straight: They included four chocolate cake recipes.

Another book bites the dust

Library Journal is reporting today that the school board in Meredian, Idaho, has taken a young-adult novel off its student reading list.

The book is "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie.

Parents objected to the book being on the list because of profanity and racial epithets, the Journal says.

The New York Times lists the novel as among the nation's best sellers in the category.

The high school librarian said she'll keep the book on her shelves.

I haven't read the book and won't. There are too many books I want to read and too little time.

Frankly, I'm just surprised that, given today's general political climate, so few books are said to be objectionable.

Locked out

The Washington Post reviewer of Suzanne Mettler's critique of political leaders' lack of support for higher education may or may not be on the mark.

Nick Anderson's review in the Sunday American-Statesman hits Mettler as more for wonks than the general public, which is off-putting, to say the least.

Regardless, it appears that what she has put together needs to be read by all of us.

Mettler appears to document the very troubling anti-higher-ed trend that began in the early '90s when our representatives at the federal and state levels decided to just stop funding college educations.

When I was a college student in the '60s, my tuition was very low and, thus, very affordable because the state and national governments felt they had a stake in whether I and my cohorts got a good education. We would be more productive, pay more in taxes and generally improve the country.

In the '90s, the push was to put more costs on families and individual students.

We have not been better off for this lack of support, and we will not be going forward, either. In fact, we are becoming worse off.

This is not the way to run a thriving democracy.